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Essay: Persepolis

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
  • Reading time: 4 minutes
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  • Published: 15 November 2019*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 1,019 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 5 (approx)

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Traditionally, graphic novels are thrown into the category of comic books.  This means that usually they are not taken seriously and are assumed to be humorous. However, Persepolis is much different than a traditional comic book. While it does use humor, it carries as much weight as a traditional novel. Marjane Satrapi makes her graphic novel humorous and enjoyable because it is filled with the playful innocence of her childhood memories. Children see the world in a different way than adults. Satrapi uses real-life humor to make light of the critical situations she is growing up being exposed to.  The innocent, childlike humor along with the graphics makes Persepolis easy to become absorbed in. Connecting with characters in the graphic novel is made easy with the humor revealed as reactions to horrors in their life. The drawn images paired with the comments on events allows for easy visualization of facial expressions, moods, and reactions throughout the telling of the story that would otherwise be lost if Persepolis were a traditional non-fiction novel.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a graphic novel can be defined as “a story that is presented in comic-strip format and published as a book”. Imagery throughout novels allow readers to create their own individual meanings of parts to the story. Imagination must be used to try and envision what the writer has put in front of you. However, when actual images are present along with the words of the story, less dependence is put on the imagination. With graphics, authors are allowed the room to most accurately portray the points they are trying to get across. For example, the author’s words alone may be taken seriously, but when paired with an image of a facial expression it is revealed that the words are sarcastic.

Will Eisner singlehandedly pioneered the way of graphic novels. Eisner’s career successfully began in the early forties as he used his images to communicate with military members (Vulture). As the Vulture website states, Eisner is commonly known to many as the “father of the graphic novel”. This makes a lot of sense considering he even coined the phrase “graphic novel”. Eisner is quoted by the Vulture saying “I had finally settled on the term ‘graphic novel’ as an adequate euphemism for comic book” (Vulture). Eisner also created the image included above. It is fitting that the “father of the graphic novel” would be the person to create such a great piece of art to be used to discuss himself. The image shows a man firmly grasping a boy by the arm, showing how intensely graphic novels would soon be hitting markets. Graphic novels have changed the world of writing and brought a new meaning to writing and Will Eisner is to be greatly thanked for his role in introducing them.

As graphic novels have recently shaken the world of literature, and continue to, it must be thought, what makes Persepolis as great as it is? What would be lost if Persepolis were simply a traditional novel? When the fine words written by Marjane Satrapi are paired with magnificent drawings, a story of a revolution is made relatable. A simple history lesson on the Holocaust may begin to get boring after a while. However, while reading The Diary of Anne Frank or visiting a Holocaust museum, this simple history lesson is given a new meaning and made real. Readers are able to truly connect to literature once they are given the correct platform to by the author. Should Persepolis have been a traditional novel, it would be another boring history lesson. However, Satrapi knew the story well enough to understand that it would be better understood when paired with graphics. Without the images, readers would lose the personal connection felt with Marji. The viewing of Marji growing and getting older would be lost along with facial expressions, mood changes, and reactions. Persepolis is a unique story to be told and heavily relies on the images throughout it to fully portray the importance of the story and how it affected the lives of those involved. Satrapi’s pairing of literature and graphics allows a white, American girl to feel as though she too has felt the pain of and lived through the Iranian Revolution alongside Marji.

While there is obvious importance to the images in Persepolis revealing key parts of the story, there is a significance that may commonly be missed. Throughout the novel, readers are allowed to observe the progression of Marji’s growth. It is not written that Marji notices herself getting taller or realizes how much older she is getting because the images clearly show the advancements of the stages of her growth. However, part of what makes Persepolis such a brilliantly executed graphic novel is the humorous innocence of viewing the story from the perspective of a child. While the literature in the novel is written in a Childs perspective, the images paired along greatly adds a childlike effect to the entirety of the book. Children are notorious for drawing. Whether it be scribbles or doodles, on the walls or on paper, children begin to express themselves at an early age with what they draw. The drawings in Persepolis accurately tap into this fact to further intensify and exemplify the childlike viewpoint.

Marjane Satrapi accurately guides readers through the events of the Iranian Revolution. However, she does not offer textbook facts or extensive research to give knowledge on what happens. Instead, she uses her memories of her childhood. Satrapi tells the story of the Iranian Revolution as she remembers it and how she recalls living through it. The connection with readers and this real-life event would be pulled away significantly if Persepolis were written as any traditional novel. Persepolis is meant to be written as a graphic novel so it can be most accurately portrayed in a way that would be lost without the images paired with the story of the Revolution.

  1. Levitz, Paul. “Will Eisner and the Secret History of the Graphic Novel.” Vulture, 10 Nov. 2015,
  2. “Graphic Novel.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster
  3. Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. Pantheon, 2003.

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